Literature and Theatre

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Space and the Speculative in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”
Maleda Belilgne

In a 1961 interview with the journalist Studs Terkel, James Baldwin offered a riveting assessment of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues.” “It’s a fantastic kind of understatement,” Baldwin tells Terkel. “It’s the way I want to write.” Baldwin hears something in Bessie, a sonic and discursive quality he aspires to and identifies as “fantastic.” This essay considers the speculative undertones of Bessie’s blues and Baldwin’s literary realism. I argue that Bessie’s doubled vocalization in “Backwater Blues” lyrically declares her immobility and circumscription, while tonally staging freedom and boundlessness. Baldwin is drawn to this dual orientation and enunciation, a vocalization that in its iteration of the real transcends the social, spatial, and imaginative limitations of that order. If we read “Sonny’s Blues” the way Baldwin hears Bessie, as a fantastic kind of understatement, we discern subtle sonic and spatial iterations of the irreal. Attending to microtonal sounds in “Sonny’s Blues”—screams, whistling, jukeboxes—I show that the speculative emerges in Baldwin’s story when the sonic overrides the racialized inscription of space.

James Baldwin Review
Lindsey R. Swindall

Clearly there is a unique hunger for Baldwin’s wisdom in this historical moment, as illustrated by Raoul Peck’s film, reprints of several Baldwin books, exhibits, and other events. This essay describes the genesis of two five-part public discussions on the works of James Baldwin that were co-facilitated by African-American Studies scholar Dr. Lindsey R. Swindall and actor Grant Cooper at two schools in New York City in the 2016–17 academic year. These discussion series led to numerous Baldwin discussion events being scheduled for the winter and spring of 2018. The surprising popularity of these programs prompted Swindall to wonder: Why do people want to discuss Baldwin now? The first of two parts, this essay speculates that many people in the digital age long for a conversational space like the one Baldwin created at the “welcome table” in his last home in France. The second essay—which is forthcoming—will confirm whether discussion events held in 2018 harmonize with the welcome table thesis.

James Baldwin Review
Ernest L. Gibson III

James Baldwin might be imagined as reaching his greatest level of popularity within this current decade. With the growth of social media activist movements like Black Lives Matter, which captures and catalyzes off a Baldwinian rage, and the publishing of works directly evoking Baldwin, his voice appears more pronounced between the years of 2013 and 2015. Scholars in Baldwin studies, along with strangers who were turned into witnesses of his literary oeuvre, have contributed to this renewed interest in Baldwin, or at least have been able to sharpen the significance of the phenomenon. Publications and performances highlight Baldwin’s work and how it prefigured developments in critical race and queer theories, while also demonstrating Baldwin’s critique as both prophetic and “disturbingly” contemporary. Emerging largely from Baldwin’s timelessness in social and political discourse, and from the need to conjure a figure to demystify the absurd American landscape, these interventions in Baldwin studies follow distinct trends. This essay examines the 2013–15 trends from four vantages: an examination of a return, with revision, to popular work by Baldwin; identifying Baldwin’s work as a contributor to theoretical and critical methodology; Baldwin and intertextuality or intervocality; and a new frontier in Baldwin studies.

James Baldwin Review
Searching for Black Queer Domesticity at Chez Baldwin
Magdalena J. Zaborowska

This essay argues for the importance of James Baldwin’s last house, located in St. Paul-de-Vence in the south of France, to his late works written during the productive period of 1971–87: No Name in the Street (1972), If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), The Devil Finds Work (1976), Just Above My Head (1979), The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), and the unpublished play The Welcome Table (1987). That period ushered in a new Baldwin, more complex and mature as an author, who became disillusioned while growing older as a black queer American who had no choice but to live abroad to get his work done and to feel safe. Having established his most enduring household at “Chez Baldwin,” as the property was known locally, the writer engaged in literary genre experimentation and challenged normative binaries of race, gender, and sexuality with his conceptions of spatially contingent national identity. The late Baldwin created unprecedented models of black queer domesticity and humanism that, having been excluded from U.S. cultural narratives until recently, offer novel ways to reconceptualize what it means to be an American intellectual in the twenty-first-century world.

James Baldwin Review
Spencer J. Weinreich

Drawing on Maggie Kilgour’s dictum that the Gothic activates a dormant past with the power to harm the present, this article explores the early modern histories invoked by the Regnum Congo, a sixteenth-century account of Africa featured in H. P. Lovecraft’s cannibal story ‘The Picture in the House’. The Regnum Congo taps into Lovecraft’s racism, instantiating, within and beyond the story, the racial and cultural convergence he dreaded. The tale’s cannibal resembles the Africans depicted in the Regnum Congo to a striking degree, even as his reverence for the book colours his putative status as a puritan. Integrating the book itself into the analysis enables a reading of the tale’s controversial cataclysmic ending as oneof several exemplars of Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’s ‘Gothic thing-power’, which disrupts subject/object boundaries. The multifarious histories summoned by ‘Picture’ reflect Lovecraft’s own ambivalence about the past, as well as the possibilities of attention to Gothic pasts.

Gothic Studies
Kristen J. Davis

The following considers Richard Marsh’s 1897 gothic novel The Beetle in relation to fin-de-siècle anxieties, specifically sexual deviancy, empire, and venereal disease. While the domestic Contagious Diseases Acts had been revealed in the 1880s, continued high rates of VD amongst British soldiers in particular continued the debate as to who was responsible for spreading diseases such as syphilis both at home and abroad. At a time of ‘colonial syphiliphobia’, to extend Showalter’s term, The Beetle suggests the necessity of regulating venereal disease in the Empire to protect Britain’s ‘racial superiority’ and conservatively warns against the potential consequences of dabbling with the sexually ‘deviant’ and dangerous Orient.

Gothic Studies
Claire Nally

Whilst the focus of much criticism has addressed goth as a subculture, considerably less attention has been given to the gendered status of marketing and advertising in subcultural magazines, whilst ‘glossy’ goth magazines have enjoyed little concerted analysis at all. Subcultures are frequently represented by participants and critics as ‘idyllic’ spaces in which the free play of gender functions as distinct from the ‘mainstream’ culture. However, as Brill (2008), Hodkinson (2002) and Spooner (2004) have identified, this is unfortunately an idealistic critical position. Whilst goth men may embrace an ‘androgynous’ appearance, goth women frequently espouse a look which has much in common with traditional feminine values. Slippages between subcultural marketing and mainstream advertising are frequent and often neotraditional in their message regarding masculinity and femininity. In using critiques of postfeminism alongside subcultural theory, I seek to reevaluate how gender functions in these publications. By close inspection of scene representations of ‘goth’ in the twenty-first-century through magazines such as Gothic Beauty (US), Unscene and Devolution (UK), as well as interviews with participants, I argue women’s goth fashion, sexuality and body image often (but not exclusively) represent a hyperfemininity which draws from conventional ideas of womanhood.

Gothic Studies
James Uden

Scholars of eighteenth-century literature have long seen the development of the Gothic as a break from neoclassical aesthetics, but this article posits a more complex engagement with classical imitation at the origins of the genre. In Horace Walpole’s formative Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto, his Gothic drama The Mysterious Mother, and in the curiosities in his villa, classical elements are detached from their contexts and placed in startling and strange juxtapositions. His tendency towards the fragmentation of ancient culture, frequently expressed through the imagery of dismemberment, suggests an aesthetic not of imitation, but of collection. Moreover, rather than abandoning or ignoring the classical, Walpole reconfigures literary history to demonstrate elements of monstrosity and hybridity already present in Greek and Roman texts.

Gothic Studies
Sofia Wijkmark

In Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Gothic-horror novel Little Star (2010) graphic violence has a central function – thematically, but primarily as an aesthetic device. The plot contains motifs from classical video nasties, motifs that also have an effect on the text itself. This paper examines the novel’s use of extremely violent scenes, influenced by violent horror films, defining them as a kind of remediation. One point being made is that the use of violent effects, often described as a kind of spectacle, can be interpreted as a formal play upon the conventions of violent fiction.

Gothic Studies
Matt Salyer

Marryat’s involvement with the Lower Canada Rebellion situated his encounter with civil war at its ‘most exterminating’ within the production of Phantom, the Cycle’s least conventional historical sea novel; it offered both a point of imaginative recursion and a concentrated image of his broader critique of the Early Republic. Just as the seamen of Midshipman Easy or The Naval Officer operate within multiple hierarchies at once, Marryat’s strangest yarn, replete with ghost ships and werewolves, operates across multiple genres and cultural formations. The common denominator for both the writer and the written in this case is multivalence – the ship that is both ship and ghost, the woman who is both mother and wolf, their writer who is both ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’, witness and contriver – but in this, Marryat the writer performs the same essential functions as imperial agents and colonial ‘factors’ do within Phantom: adjudication, translation, and open-ended transformation.

Gothic Studies